by St Paul's Collegiate School

Waitangi Day - from a social studies teacher's viewpoint

One hundred eighty years ago, Maori and Pakeha joined together in the Bay of Islands to sign what would become New Zealand’s founding document, te tiriti o Waitangi, the Treaty of Waitangi. Written in English and hastily translated into Maori, the treaty is now a cornerstone in New Zealand History.

Of course, our nation’s journey begins much earlier than this. The arrival of Maori to New Zealand from Hawaakii many hundreds of years prior, cement Maori as Tangata Whenua in our beautiful country.

Foreign explorers, sealers and whalers all enter the scene, and when rumours circle that the French are planning on staking a claim in Aotearoa, the English Government is quick to act.

Which is how we find ourselves in Waitangi - 180 years ago.

On February 6th 1840, on a stinking hot day - probably not unlike this one, Maori and Pakeha have gathered in front of a pakeha house. Many Maori have travelled from afar to discuss, and ultimately support the signing of this treaty.

The significance of the signing is not lost on those who are in attendance. Both Maori and the English think they are getting a good deal, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Which it is, except whose History?

Mixed messages and errors in translation mean that the English and Maori versions of the treaty don’t match but more importantly the understanding of the treaties are different. There are 521 signatures on the Maori version of the treaty, and only 30 on the English version.

Words matter.

In the years following, New Zealand sees land wars, the Kingitangi movement, land confiscations and many years of European laws and legislation that betrays the key principles of te tiriti of Waitangi.

180 years is a very long time, and the New Zealand government has moved towards acknowledging the grievances of Maori and the historic injustices.

On twitter this week - I saw a post from a Maori woman artist who was discussing that her son ‘TeRangi’ doesn’t use his first name when booking a venue or purchasing tickets over the phone. She was annoyed - I was saddened. How is it that a person who identifies as Tangata Whenua, has to use his best friend’s English name instead of his own when doing a simple act - such as booking a restaurant.

The choice to use the name James is ironic - given it was James Cook, who was the first Englishmen to arrive in New Zealand.

While I have no doubt that sitting in front of me today there are future policy writers, educators, members of parliament and potentially even a prime minister, there are things we can collectively do to acknowledge the intended principles of the Treaty.

Respect Tikanga, Maori principles and protocols, acknowledge the wrongs of the past and support a shared history from a range of perspectives. Practice tolerance to all who visit and live in Aotearoa.

Let’s collectively make the effort to attempt to pronounce and use place and peoples names correctly. Today is an opportunity to reflect on who we are, where we have come from and where we are going as a country.
In closing, Let’s reflect on this whakatauki:

He aha te mea nui o te ao. He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata
What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people.